Like so many inventions, the Ferris Wheel originated with a challenge. In 1890, as the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago was being designed, the builders had a problem. Just the year before, France had created the Eiffel Tower for their 1889 World’s Fair. The Tower was a sensation—how could Chicago Exposition do anything less? George Ferris—an engineer hired to test the steel in Exposition structures—had an idea. How about a huge wheel, carrying spectators high above the fair?
The path from George’s idea to the wheel’s success was not an easy one. And the success of the Ferris Wheel did not lead to a happy-ever-after ending for its inventor. But the story of the Ferris Wheel is a saga of creativity, determination, grit and finding a place in history. You can learn more about it from Smithsonian or inspire younger students with Jenna Glatzer’s George Ferris’ Grand Idea: The Ferris Wheel (The Story Behind the Name). Either way, the story is fascinating. It is also a good opportunity to talk to students about what George Ferris had to do to make the Ferris Wheel possible—thinking flexibly, believing in his ideas, solving problems, persistence and courage.
Learning about George Ferris made me a bit more aware of the countless people behind the inventions that surround me every day. Perhaps it will inspire your students in similar ways—or set them on an inventor’s path. Either way, it will be fascinating.